College Hoops And A New York Legacy

Posted

For those who wonder why the Big Apple hasn’t hosted an NCAA basketball Final since 1950, the answer might lie in a game-fixing scandal that for years had left an indelible mark on college basketball.

A “Mecca” for college hoops in the 1940’s, New York’s Madison Square Garden (MSG) filled up regularly with exuberant fans cheering for more than just their favorite teams. Many in the arena were screaming “shoot the ball!” for no other reason than to win on their betting spreads.

Bookies, gamblers and unsavory characters have long found fertile ground around sports. New York in particular saw plenty of double-header nights and big wagers from the throngs of game goers.

For NCAA basketball, it all came to a head in 1951 when Junius Kellogg, a leading scorer for Manhattan College, blew the whistle on what became the biggest corruption story to ever hit college athletics.

A native of Virginia playing on a scholarship, Kellogg refused a $1,000 bribe offered by a former teammate to shave points off the spread of an upcoming game at MSG.

Kellogg reported the incident to the District Attorney’s office, which sent him back wearing a wire to collect more evidence. The scandal exploded, ultimately revealing that from 1947-50, 86 games were fixed in 23 different cities and involved 32 players from seven colleges.

Four of the schools were located in the New York area:

City College of New York (CCNY), Long Island University (LIU), New York University (NYU) and Manhattan College. The others were the University of Kentucky, Bradley University, and the University of Toledo.

Officials discovered that fixers were secretly paying college players to throw off points at certain matches during the season. The key money man was Salvatore Sollazzo, a jeweler and gambler with a criminal record.

Ten fixers, some with links to the underworld, ended up in jail with Sollazzo spending the longest term of 12 years. But the most explosive revelation for New Yorkers was the participation of members of CCNY’s basketball squad.

Historically unheralded, the Beavers were a Cinderella team that won both the NCAA and the NIT titles the same year in 1950, a combined feat that no other college had ever achieved.

Seven CCNY players received suspended sentences after pleading guilty to shaving points in three games during the 1949-50 season.

Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp was convinced his players were clean and remarked “they couldn’t reach my boys with a ten-foot pole”. But three of his star players were actually embroiled in the mess and two of them, Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, had their futures in the NBA derailed.

Perhaps the most ruined of the promising careers was that of LIU’s Sherman White, considered New York’s leading player at the time and possibly the best in the country.

The 6’8” leaping prodigy would have been the Knicks’ first round draft choice but he ended up serving 9 months in jail and barred from playing in the NBA.

While the 1951 point shaving scandal was not the last to plague college basketball, the institutional fallout was consequential and enduring.

The NCAA suspended Kentucky’s basketball program for the 1952-53 season. CCNY de-emphasized sports and a decade later dropped down to Division III. LIU shut down its entire athletic curriculum for 6 years and didn’t return to Division I until the 1980’s.

For New York, it might be argued that the big City lost the privilege of hosting an NCAA Championship Final for generations.

Other articles enjoyed: Phliadelphia Warriors, When UCLA Ruled Basketball, The Greatest Sports Deal Ever, Tallest & Shortest, WNBA Going Strong 

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

BOXING  July 11, 2009  Boxer Arturo Gatti is found dead at his hotel while vacationing in Brazil with his wife. She is initially charged with homicide, but then released for lack of evidence. However, a 2nd autopsy performed later in Canada where the Italian-born pugilist was living, determined he died by strangulation. Gatti was a world champion in 2 lightweight classes, retiring in 2007 with a 40-9 record.

20 years ago

FOOTBALL  July 18, 1999  Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson marries long-time girlfriend, Rhonda Rookmaaker, in the Florida Keys; he has two sons from a previous marriage. The illustrious football figure started coaching college in 1965 before moving to the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys (1989) and Miami Dolphins (1996). He won two consecutive Super Bowls with the former (XXVII, XXVIII).

30 years ago

GOLF  July 16, 1989  Betsy King claims the 44th annual U.S. Women’s Open Championship, firing 278 (-6) at the Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Orion Lake, Michigan. Winning by 4 strokes ahead of runner-up Nancy Lopez, it was the first of her two consecutive victories at the event and the second of her six major career titles. The Pennsylvania native turned pro in 1977 and retired in 2005 with 39 LPGA Tour wins.

40 years ago

BASEBALL  July 12, 1979  The Chicago White Sox hold a “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park during a double header with the Detroit Tigers. The event turns into a promotional fiasco as fans pelt debris and destroy the field while a box full of vinyl disco records is blown up by local radio disc jockey, Steve Dahl. The White Sox end up forfeiting the second game after the field is made unplayable.